House Democrats Want Marijuana Vote Despite GOP Criticism

 House Democrats Want Marijuana Vote Despite GOP Criticism

All summer long GOP leaders have attacked Democrats over marijuana. Democratic leaders are responding this month by going all in on cannabis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote for the week of Sept. 21st that would not only decriminalize marijuana – it would also expunge criminal records and create a fund so tax revenue from cannabis goes to communities left blighted by the war on ‘drugs.’

While Republicans are still governing as if this was 1971 – the year ‘drugs’ were dubbed “public enemy number one” by former President Richard Nixon – Democrats seem unphased. That’s likely because they’ve read polls showing 2/3rds of Americans now support legal cannabis. But it’s also because this isn’t their first rodeo.

Freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) used to be a state representative in her sprawling state. She knows her district, which is predominantly in the suburbs of Philadelphia, isn’t like the rural parts of the state. When medicinal marijuana legalization came before the state legislature, Dean remembers being touched – even pained – by the families who literally camped out in her state’s historic and ornate capitol rotunda in Harrisburg.

“I remember thinking at the time, and meeting with the advocates and the families, and thinking, ‘I’m on your side. I will be voting yes, but…man is this a tough state for this fight,’” Dean told The News Station on a call with other reporters. “I actually thought it wouldn’t happen, and it happened.”  

Dean says “public persuasion” was the key. But Republican leaders haven’t gotten that memo from the public yet, in spite of more than 50 percent of their base now supporting it.  

After House Democrats announced their late September vote on the MORE Act – officially the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – even the White House ripped on it (even if President Trump has supposedly pledged to sign national decriminalization legislation).

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – who represents California, which was once the Silicon Valley of marijuana – has repeatedly blasted Democrats for pushing marijuana normalization. And, true to form, his communications department followed his footsteps and blasted Democrats for pushing decriminalization.

Still, Democrats remain unphased.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Rep. Dean of Pennsylvania told The News Station, before acknowledging the GOP messaging machine is after them on it – a messaging campaign she dismissed as “a spin and a backflip and it will defy logic.”

It’s not just Democrats. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) – a key Trump ally – is also on board.

While the top brass in the GOP continue to oppose cannabis, this summer’s racial turmoil seems to have only enlivened suburban Democrats like Dean because it’s “exposed the extraordinary inequities in our system.”

“Folks who are in jail, incarcerated, serving serious time for possession – it’s wrong on its face – but we also see the discriminatory nature of it, that it is generally, disproportionately people of color,” Dean said.  

That’s why Dean – and many other Democrats (along with many Republican voters, at least) – is all on in the legislation to decriminalize marijuana and invest some of those profits into the communities hurt most by the failed war on ‘drugs.’

“And what that does is not just isolate and incarcerate a single person, it handicaps an entire family, which handicaps an entire community,” Dean said. “It steals from them – their ability to grow economically, to grow their careers – forever in the shadow of this conviction, that is so incredibly wrong. So I am delighted that we will be bringing this up.”

But for Dean – like most voters across today’s great ideological divide – it’s not just the right thing to do; it also makes fiscal sense.

“It’s not only the morally right thing to do; it’s the fiscally smart thing to do,” Dean said. “Do we want to spend all this money on law enforcement and incarceration for something that is not painlessly criminal in the way that we have made it in the past? It’s bad for the economy. So if they can’t see that it’s bad for families and people and discriminatory, it’s bad for the economy. So that’s the argument we’ll have to make.”  

Matt Laslo

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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